Physician judgments of chronic pain patients

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Oct;45(8):1199-205. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(97)00033-6.


Recent evidence has indicated that physician judgments of patients can be influenced by contextual factors. This study examined three contextual factors relevant to hypothetical patients with low back pain, using vignettes that were varied in a 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design: level of reported pain (high vs low), level of supporting medical evidence (high vs low), and the valence of the physician-patient interaction (positive vs negative). Perceived levels of pain, disability, emotional distress, and somatic preoccupation were rated by internists after reading a vignette. Ratings of pain and disability were lower for patients without supporting medical evidence; ratings of distress, somatic preoccupation, and disability were greater for patients who exhibited negative rather than positive affect; internist ratings of pain were lower than patient ratings among patients reporting high levels of pain, while ratings were inflated for patients with low levels of pain. The results suggest that characteristics of both the patient and the situation may influence medical judgments.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Chronic Disease
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement*
  • Pain*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians